Denver is usually not very friendly to the Patriots, but New England managed to turn their luck around on Sunday. They came away with a hard fought 16-3 win over the Broncos, also winning an AFC East title for the 8th straight year, and locking up a first round bye for the 7th straight year (both NFL records). Here are some of my quick thoughts:
– Tom Brady really does not like playing in Mile High. He struggled mightily to start the game, going 0-6 passing in the first quarter. He eventually settled down and began making smarter throws, but he still only finished a pedestrian 16-32 for 188 yards. He was also very nervous on his feet, panicking every time Denver got pressure on him. It is definitely a good sign that even if the Broncos make the playoffs, the Patriots will not need to travel there.
– Dion Lewis led the Patriots offense with 18 carries for 95 yards. In a rare occasion, New England relied more heavily on the run game than they did the passing game, and it paid dividends. The Patriots running back committee was able to chew up yards, and get consistent yards up the middle of the field against a weakened Broncos defense.
– Marcus Cannon was unquestionably the Patriots offensive MVP, which is something I never thought I would be saying. In last year’s AFC Championship game Cannon was absolutely emasculated by Von Miller. This year was an entirely different story, as Cannon held his own and did not give up a single sack to Miller. Cannon has been quietly outstanding all year long, and the Patriots will need him to continue on that track as they head into the playoffs against top notch defensive lines.
– The first half of the season was rife with questions about the legitimacy of the Patriots defense. Many wondered if they were a championship caliber unit, particularly because of the lack of significant pass rush. The second half of the season has seen them turn a huge corner. Over the past three weeks the Patriots defensive line has played at an elite level, notching 10 sacks and a safety. Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard specifically have been outstanding. Sheard has been playing as well as he did in 2015, which can most likely be attributed to his benching just a few short weeks ago. Flowers has seven sacks on the season. This is just one sack behind former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, indicating that the Patriots have been making up for the production that they lost.
– The Patriots secondary had a large part to play in the team’s success in Denver on Sunday. Trevor Siemian completed 25/40 passes for 282 yards and an interception. The Patriots did a great job of covering up Denver’s exceptional receivers. Despite what Emmanuel Sanders said Malcolm Butler was impressive, coming away with a number of key pass breakups. While Logan Ryan had some miscues in coverage against Demaryius Thomas, he came up with a huge interception in the red zone that flipped the game’s momentum.
– Dion Lewis should have a bone to pick with Bill Belichick. The Patriots drove down the field in the second quarter, and Dion Lewis took the ball into the end zone from two yards out. Lewis was marked down at the one, but replay showed that he clearly stretched the ball over the goal line. Belichick could have, and probably should have challenged the play, in which case Dion Lewis would have been predated with the score. Instead, the Patriots sent LeGarrette Blount in to finish the job and run the ball in from one yard away. Bill Belichick seemed to be playing it like you play Madden, where you try to load up one player to have insane stats.
– Stephen Gostkowski has quietly been perfect over the last three games *knocks on wood*. This is a good sign, especially after exercising some demons in Mile High.
This game was import an for the Patriots because they were able to put the Broncos into a precarious playoff situation, they were able to clinch a first round bye, and their defense is starting to play with energy and intensity that they lacked in the first two-thirds of the season. It was a tone-setting game heading into the last two weeks of the season.
Until next time- B$